National Geographic : 2010 Aug
Actual size "Atram-Hasis, pay heed to my advice, that you may live forever! ... Draw out the boat that you will build with a circular design; let its length and breadth be the same." ENKI, A BABYLONIAN GOD PHOTO: ROLF MARRIOTT ARCHAEOLOGY Hark the Round Ark "Make thee an ark," the Lord told Noah in the Book of Genesis, and forever after the ark has been pictured as an animal-filled boat with a conventional prow and stern. Now a recently translated Babylonian tablet (above), related to the Epic of Gilgamesh, floats an intriguing alternative in which the archetypal ark was round and made of pitch-covered reeds, much like a coracle, a craft still used today on the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. "The ark wasn't going anywhere, " explains Irving Finkel, assistant keeper of cuneiform at the British Museum, who did the translation. "It simply had to bob along the surface until the waters went down." The author of the 4,000-year-old clay tablet might have glanced out his window at the vessels on the river and adapted the detail to his story. Flood myths appear in many cultures, and this one had circulated for eons before it was incorporated into the Bible. Finkel thinks the Babylonian version may have been a precursor to the familiar Hebraic one. While the shape of the ark may vary according to the teller, a basic narrative thread holds: Man was flawed. Revision was required. Best to wipe the slate clean and start again. ---Cathy Newman A Babylonian text has specs for a round ark meant to ride out the Flood.